James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why we believe things

Fans of Alison Rosen created their own podcast. In one of the episodes, SuperFan Meghan mentioned how she believed in Santa Claus as late as the 6th Grade.

If that sounds silly, think again. Meghan had long before dispensed belief in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairly.

But Santa Claus was different.


Because the weatherman was tracking Santa’s movements on the news! Why would the news spend time on a story that wasn't true?

This is what Kid Logic is all about. The logic is irrefutable. The facts are wrong. But it’s not the child’s fault that she was lied to.

My Santa experience is totally different, but I get where Meghan’s coming from. In the 1990s, Major League batters were hitting home runs at record pace. The media said that steroids could not help baseball players. Therefore, baseball players weren’t taking them. Therefore, there was a conspiracy originating from the Commissioner’s Office to “juice” the ball. That was the reason for the offensive explosion.

I believed it all. I had a job and a life. I had better things to do than double-check what journalists said. I thought double-checking is their job. So I believed baseball players weren’t juiced.

And it was all wrong. The ball wasn’t juiced, the players were. Just as Santa isn’t real, no matter what the weatherman says.

So why do we believe what seems absurd?

It’s because our brains are not only wired for logic, but also programmed since birth to trust authority. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Logic is our instinct, but we also need guidance based on the experience of others if we are to survive.

That’s why we believe what we’re told. Whether it’s parents about Santa, sportswriters about baseball, or Colin Powell about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, we believe. We don’t have time to investigate everything we’re told. We only have so much time in this life, so we can’t afford not to believe.

That’s why we are where we are, and the country and world are what they are. For the most part, we believe and duplicate what we’re told.

It’s natural.

But it’s also against our self-interest. The less we trust our logical instinct and the more we trust authority, the greater the mess we find ourselves.

That’s why I rely on two rules.
  1. If it’s too good to be true, it is. Santa is too good to be true.
  2.  If it’s too bad to be true, it is. Meaning, if politicians try to persuade you to give up your rights and liberties to address an evil, the politicians themselves are probably more evil than the evil they want to defeat.
In other words, it’s probably best to rely on logical instincts. You don’t have to go through life trying to disprove the claims of others. But you should insist they provide evidence for their claims.

Don’t distrust authority, but be skeptical of what seems to be unreasonable claims.


  1. I agree but don't think you go far enough. I have learned to distrust authority as my first reaction. Only once in a blue moon is that distrust proved unwarranted.

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